English And The Trouble With Marketing To Americans

Pouring a cuppa tea
To my friends in the UK: Is it possible to have a cuppa coffee? Or do you cringe at the very idea?

Here in the States, we’ll order a cup o’ anything. But in the UK, a “cuppa” specifically refers to tea, right?

Interesting how a simple concept - like how to order a hot beverage - may not be so simple depending on where you travel.

In the state of Tennessee, for example, ordering tea in any restaurant elicits the question, “Sweet? Or Unsweet?" Meaning: do you want your iced tea plain or sweetened with about a pound of sugar?

Preferring my tea unsweetened and un-iced, I learned to order “hot” tea. This does not eliminate all confusion, however. One waitress told me she’d have to “check on that.” (Hint: if you’re brewing iced tea by the gallon, you have the ingredients to make a cuppa.) Yet another brought me - I kid you not - a tea bag, a mug of hot water . . . and a cup of ice!

I speak English, how ‘bout you?

Despite what you may have been taught, there is no “proper” English. The language is organic. It’s traveled the globe and grown new dialects on every shore.

Americans, in particular, seem determined to speak our own language. What Aussies and Brits called “chips,” we call “fries.” What they call a car’s “boot,” we call the “trunk.” And what they call a “rubber,” we call an “eraser.”

It’s not just the meanings of the words that change, either. Americans literally spell shite differently.

Personally, I find the influence of geography and culture on language fascinating. It’s part of why I got into this business as a copywriter. But not everyone agrees with me.

Pride and American prejudice

Americans can be cruel to those who don’t speak English as we do. Though many of us barely manage to learn one language, we mock foreigners for their accents and lack of English fluency.

We’ll even take pot shots at Canadians for talkin’ funny . . . eh?

As the world’s largest economy, America may be a juicy target for companies large and small, but communications can quickly become a problem.

Lost in translation

Examples abound of companies bombing translations and otherwise screwing up international marketing campaigns.
Idioms, colloquialisms, slang: they make advertising copy interesting, but tend to confuse people who aren’t familiar with them.

That’s why simply translating your existing marketing materials into English isn’t good enough.

Yoo- What?

The best marketing isn’t just understandable, it’s relatable. It often capitalizes on local references and expressions to be more familiar, personable.

But because the term “cuppa” makes about as much sense in Nashville as “unsweet tea” does in London, your marketer needs to know more than just the local language, she needs to understand the local culture.

When marketing to Americans it helps to work with a marketer who knows her Hoosiers from her Yoopers, her hipsters from her hillbillies, and her Raiders from her Pirates.

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